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GABRIEL STOVALL: Here's hoping March 7 BOC meeting was a start toward a more unifying tone
Gabriel Stovall
Gabriel Stovall, Publisher and Editor of The Covington News.

My mother taught me that whenever you pass out critique of someone or something that’s not living up to standard, if you truly mean well in that critique, you’ll also follow it up with a little praise when an attempt to be better as been made. 

The February 21 Newton County Board of Commissioners meeting was the most tenuous and hard-to-watch local government spectacle I’ve personally had to cover. And, if you recall, I used this space to issue a challenge for the BOC to do better.

I don’t know how many BOC members, if any, actually read that piece. But what I do know is that I was far from the only one speaking that “do better” sentiment, so whether they heard it from me or others across our county, I’m sure they received the message. 

Thusly, the March 7 meeting was the smoothest one I’ve seen to date. The business portion of it started with an apology from Chairman Marcello Banes who expressed what felt like genuine sorrow for that Feb. 21 debacle that robbed citizens of a chance to sound off on issues of concern because Banes adjourned it early due to incessant chatter and bickering by the Board. 

But last Tuesday’s meeting was efficient and congenial, if not pleasant. And it was a refreshing change of pace. Albeit, it was just one meeting. To be sure, the Feb. 21 meeting was an eruption of a gradual build-up of tensions that’s stretched back a few months all the way back to the insurance lapse when Travelers Insurance Co. told the Board last August that it would not renew its coverage for the county. 

Let’s hope this most recent meeting signals a positive build up that continues. 

Why? Because Newton County has way too much going on in and around it for our governing board to be vehemently and visibly at odds with each other or with the county’s citizens. That’s not my way of suggesting that a Pollyanna world should exist. I’ve said in this space — and really in any space I can — how much I loathe politics at times. But just because I don’t like politics doesn’t mean I don’t understand politics. 

And the truth is, no matter how you slice it, politics can be messy. It can be nasty. It can present some of a community’s most cantankerous characters and chaotic moments. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. 

Here’s another bit of wisdom from Dear Old Mom: You don’t always have to like someone in order to respect someone and work well together with that person. 

This holds true, especially when working for the greater good of the constituents that placed elected officials in their seats. Whether we’re talking County Board, City of Covington, Newton County School Board, whatever, we have much bigger fish to fry than to be trying to one up each other in public view. 

I don’t know how well the County Commissioners get along behind the scenes. I don’t fully know the interpersonal dynamic of our Board. Do they chat on the phone with each other from time to time? Do they have casual lunch meetings to discuss issues without the pressure of a public vote in front of the scrutinizing gaze of citizens?

Truth is, it doesn’t matter. 

When you look at the scope of our county and see all that’s coming, not to mention all that’s already here, in the way of growth, we need a unified Board now more than ever. 

We need a Board that’s selfless and willing to embrace the fact that no one individual will always get his or her way. 

We need a Board that puts personal feelings aside to push for what’s in the best interests of the County and its citizens. 

We need a Board that does all the things we’ve taught our children about respect and working together for a common goal — lessons most of us learned in Kindergarten. 

I hope we have that Board now. 

When I came into this position as Publisher last August, some readers sent me emails loaded with assumptions of my, and by proxy, our newspaper’s, allegiance to certain members of our County Board of Commissioners. To this day — though I know it’s par for the course for our industry, and really our current cultural climate — it baffles me how people who don’t know a person can make such personal assumptions of what that person believes in, supports or holds in high esteem. 

I have my thoughts as to why it was so easy for some of those folks to make those assumptions. But I digress. 

The point is this: The only thing we at The Covington News are rooting for is unity among our county’s local decision makers. Unity doesn’t always mean agreement. I don’t expect people in such capacities to agree on everything. But at least let’s agree on rallying together to do what’s best for the county’s interest and not our own — and to do it as peaceably as humanly possible. 

March 7 gave us a glimmer of hope that, with this group, such unity is possible. We know that it’s sorely needed. Only time will tell if it will be consistently executed. 

 Gabriel Stovall is the publisher and editor of The Covington News. He can be reached at